The IZOD IndyCar Series' position as the premier open-wheel racing championship in the US could be facing the prospect of a serious challenge, following reports from ESPN
that Formula One Management is discussing setting up a new regional championship for the Americas. (See main story
in the F1 channel.)
The new series would be based on the successful GP2 and GP3 feeder and support series already operated by FOM in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, according to FOM company documents seen by the US sports cable channel.
Although initially it would likely be limited to supporting the Grand Prix events at Austin, Texas in the US and in Montreal, Canada and Sao Paulo in Brazil, a fourth race weekend for the series would come on stream in New Jersey in 2014. Assuming that the new American series follows a similar format to that used by GP2 and GP3, that would give it an eight-race season over the four venues.
The plans still have to be formally green-lit, and there's no indication on when such a series would actually launch.
The threat for IndyCar would come if FOM decided to expand the support series beyond these four weekends in an effort to boost awareness and interest in F1 as a whole across the continent. One aim of a new series would be to expand grassroots participation in the sport by establishing a ladder to train and develop American drivers aimed at a future in F1, which currently has no US drivers on the starting grid.
IndyCar has its own form of feeder series with the junior Indy Lights championship, but there is little prospect of IndyCar managing to team up with F1 in any capacity in the foreseeable future. With a very different specification car - designed to run on ovals and temporary street circuits rather than the permanent road courses preferred by F1 - IndyCar is not in a position to act as a feeder series for F1 driving talent, as Rubens Barrichello explained after moving from Grand Prix racing to the IndyCar Series in 2012.
"In F1 there are lots of electronic toys, there is none here," Barrichello told the media over the summer. "There is nothing wrong, it is simply less money," he added, suggesting that IndyCar technology was in a state more like that of F1 a decade ago.
"The first surprise was the fact that I didn't have the warmers on the tyre. You know, I went out, it's a different technique to drive," he admitted when he first moved to IndyCar. "When I went out, Jesus, I didn't have the temperature on the tyre, and I almost spun. So that's a new thing for me.
"So different revs, different everything," Barrichello added. "The steering wheel is a little bit heavier, so I have to get used to that." At least the new 2012-generation IndyCar added carbon fibre brakes for the first time.
While a GP2-style regional series supporting Grand Prix events would not seem to be much of an initial threat to IndyCar, the concern would be if it started to look at hosting stand-alone events at US venues such as Watkins Glen International, Sonoma Raceway and Laguna Seca.
Even if a FOM-sanctioned regional series were to remain relatively limited and low-key, it could still have a detrimental effect to IndyCar's position in the US motor sports scene. The championship is already struggling to recover from a decade-long split between the Indy Racing League and the Champ Car World Series that left fans confused and which ultimately devastated support in favour of NASCAR stock car racing.
Even the hint of another rival could be the final straw for the series. IndyCar is reported to have lost around $7m in this past season, compared with FOM's estimated $44.8m in revenues (2.9% of the group's total) from GP2 and GP3 alone.
IndyCar's board of directors recently accepted the resignation of chief executive officer Randy Bernard leaving the future of the series uncertain. There has even been considerable media speculation about whether IndyCar can even survive in its current format, and whether it might end up becoming a one race-only championship centred solely on the world famous Indianapolis 500 race held every year in May.
If that were to happen, then FOM might be keeping its options open to allow it to move into position at the forefront of open-wheel racing across the US and the rest of the American continent.